A virus complete with diarrhea and vomiting has sent cruise ships back to port for a good scrubbing and now is spreading through Nebraska. Norovirus is highly contagious and anyone can catch it.
There have already been 13 outbreaks, 12 of which were in long-term care facilities and one in college dorms, and health officials want everyone to be warned.
"It's a stomach bug really. It's the kind that we have all had it comes on fast, it leaves fast, it works on both ends. You're pretty ill but you get over it pretty quickly," said Marsha Carlson, a public health nurse out of Holdrege.
This virus causes extreme stomach problems: nausea, diarrhea and uncontrollable vomiting. Some may not even make it to the restroom.
"If you bring people together in small areas where you have crowding, you do see more of this, whether it is through the air or environmental contamination on door knobs, hand rails, bathrooms, shaking hands, you name it. And we worry tremendously about food handlers," said State Epidemiologist Dr. Thomas Safranek.
Norovirus usually starts 12 to 48 hours after exposure and lasts one to three days until it is flushed out. "It is just so contagious, if you touch something that someone else touched," said Carlson. "Just like a cruise ship, long-term care and college any place where you can get a lot of people in a small space, there is just a lot more at risk in becoming ill."
The best way to prevent contacting the illness is to keep clear of anyone who has it. "Stay away from other people if you are in a house hold if you can do it. I would dedicate a bathroom to someone with this," said Safranek. "Good house-hold bleach can contaminate this and you have to be very careful with any clean-up effort because it is very easily transmitted to people who are doing the clean-up."
If you or someone you know comes down with norovirus, experts say to make sure they stay hydrated. "Give them time to get better and don't go visiting some of these facilities where people are more vulnerable too, but then to protect yourself just wash your hands often," explained Carlson.
There have been two recent norovirus outbreaks locally in the tri-cities in long–term care facilities. Officials said each one infected about 50 people, including staff and residents.